Khris Middleton’s stock is quickly rising. The Milwaukee Bucks swingman had a career year in 2017-18 and he’s looking to build off of his performance as he enters a contract year. Middleton has yet to receive any accolades. But his best chance at appearing in the All-Star Game is now.
After a quick glance at his boxscore stats, an All-Star Game certainly looks within reach for Middleton. He averaged 20.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game on 47 percent shooting from the floor and 36 percent from deep last season. These stats are only small pieces of the bigger picture. But at the very least they show that Middleton’s chances at making the All-Star Game are possible, if not probable.
Why He Won’t Make The All-Star Game
Let’s get this part out of the way. No player is ever a lock to make the All-Star Game. Injuries are an obvious reason why it’s never safe to pencil someone in before the season starts. But with Middleton, there are a few factors that could hurt his run at his first All-Star Game.
First off, Middleton could be overshadowed by his superstar teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo. Obviously, Middleton and the Bucks won’t complain if the Greek Freak is dominating. But with only 12 spots available on the All-Star team’s roster, Middleton could be overlooked. Unless the Bucks are a top two or three seed in the East come February, some may have a hard time justifying two roster spots for Milwaukee.
Additionally, Middleton’s defense is nothing to write home about. He is incredibly gifted on offense, but his defensive numbers are average at best. This will not necessarily hurt his case, but his defense will not put him over the edge for any of the coaches voting for the reserves.
The last — and dumbest — reason why Middleton could be snubbed would be the way the NBA lets fans vote on the starters. Of course, Middleton probably won’t be in the conversation to start, but a player who otherwise wouldn’t make the All-Star Game could be. The two scenarios that come to mind are Dwyane Wade and Kristaps Porzingis.
If Wade suits up for the Miami Heat this season and he announces that it’s his final season, he could be voted in as a starter. That’s exactly what happened to Kobe Bryant in 2016.
Porzingis, on the other hand, could make an early return to the court and despite only playing a handful of games by then, top the Eastern Conference voting. He’s the type of transcendent star that could do that — especially in the New York market. Of course, both of these scenarios are relatively unlikely, but they are possible nonetheless.
Why He Will Make The All-Star Game
Middleton is entering what’s essentially a contract year. He has a player option for $13 million, but he’s outperformed his contract. In all likelihood, Middleton will decline his option to cash in on his recent success. Making the All-Star Game would certainly up Middleton’s stock heading into a very important summer.
Another reason why Middleton could be heading to Charlotte in February is Mike Budenholzer. Milwaukee’s offense sputtered at times last season. Jason Kidd was fired midseason and the Bucks coaching situation was not ideal. Despite the turmoil, Middleton had a career year. Perhaps Budenholzer — one of the best coaches in the league — can give the offense a shot of life.
The weaker competition in the Eastern Conference is a huge reason why this year could be Middleton’s best opportunity to make an All-Star Game. Obviously, LeBron James is the major player that is leaving another spot available. But more than just James, the East lacks the star power of the teams out West.
There are a lot of players in the East that will make a strong case for the All-Star Game in February, but Middleton is right there in the conversation.
If he plays as well as he did last year, he should be in the conversation for a reserve spot on the roster. If he improves on last season, he will have a really strong case.
There aren’t many “locks” to make the All-Star Game in the watered-down Eastern Conference. The players in the East who have made an All-Star Game are Vince Carter, Dwyane Wade (if he plays), Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Andre Drummond, Kawhi Leonard, Joakim Noah, Kemba Walker, Bradley Beal, Goran Dragic, Joel Embiid, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Korver, Victor Oladipo, and Kristaps Porzingis.
There are 21 players on that list, but that number is deceiving. Carter, Wade, Howard, and Noah are well past their primes. Kristaps Porzingis is still sidelined indefinitely so he won’t be a factor until at least around Christmas time. He could sneak in on a fan vote if he returns earlier than expected, but that’s not likely.
Middleton is certainly capable of outplaying guys like Goran Dragic, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Korver. There are always a couple guys in the All-Star Game who aren’t quite at that superstar level.
Additionally, it’s unlikely that any rookie will make the roster. The last rookie to make an All-Star Game was Blake Griffin in 2011. The player before that was Yao Ming in 2003. So it’s clear that rookies historically don’t have much of a chance at breaking through. Ben Simmons nearly did last season — and he’ll make a strong case for his first appearance this year — but his status as a rookie ultimately hurt his stock. The coaches who select the reserves usually give deference to a veteran over a rookie.
In the big picture, the All-Star Game is meaningless. Players do not take the game itself too seriously and it’s usually a very boring affair despite the highlight reel dunks. But being named to the team is a feather for any player to stick in his cap. It’s something that they can always hold on to.
Middleton is developing into a big-time player and the next logical step for his career would be an appearance in the All-Star Game. He’s coming off of his first season where he averaged 20 points per game for the first time. He has tangible motivation to take another step forward with his free agency looming.
But the lack of star power in the Eastern Conference gives Middleton the perfect opportunity to punch his first ticket to the All-Star Game.